Epistemic Closure at the Atlantic? No, Just Ignorance

I virtually never respond to attacks by liberals, because 1) I hardly ever see them, and 2) when I do, they are rarely worth the trouble. But this piece by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic is worth noting because through its ineptitude, it inadvertently reinforces my point.

Friedersdorf’s article is titled “A Textbook Example of the Right’s Epistemic Closure.” (By the way, I have actually studied epistemology, and in my opinion the phrase “epistemic closure” is not just pretentious, but inapt.) Friedersdorf attacks this post by me, titled “The Left Is Getting Clobbered on Twitter.” These were the key observations in my post:

Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives. We saw it when the Hilary Rosen interview (“Ann Romney never worked a day in her life”) prompted a Twitterstorm. We saw it again when #ObamaEatsDogs exploded, and when #Julia blew up in the White House’s face like an exploding cigar. Currently, the White House is promoting #AskMichelle, where loyal Democrats can go to ask the First Lady a question. Only nearly all of the questions have come from conservatives. A sampling:

When you vacation in Hawaii, can you see the rise of the oceans beginning to slow?
What’s up this week for the @BarackObama campaign and “Operation Change the Subject” (to anything except the economy)?
Do you still exchange May Day cards with Bill and Bernadette?
Do you think your daughters should request affirmative actions preferences?
Do you still get Christmas cards from the Rezkos and Blagojeviches?
So who succeeded you at that critical, highly important $300k/year community outreach job at UC hospital?
I have several friends who specialize in relocation. Shall I give them your number so they can help you relocate in January?

Now Friedersdorf could have gone to #ObamaEatsDogs, #Julia, #AskMichelle, and so on, counted the tweets and argued that I was wrong because the liberals were, in fact, out in force and outnumbered the conservatives. But he didn’t do that, and he couldn’t have, because it wouldn’t have been true. Instead, he wrote this:

John Hinderaker is on Twitter too. He follows 458 people. The vast majority are conservatives whose work he likes. And guess what? “The Right is clobbering the Left on Twitter,” he writes. “Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives.” It would seem that way if the feed you curated included thousands of daily tweets from your favorite conservatives and only a handful from liberals, some of whom — Snoop Dogg, for example — you’re probably following on a lark. …

Musing on the supposed conservative Twitter advantage, Hinderaker adds: “We saw it when the Hilary Rosen interview (‘Ann Romney never worked a day in her life’) prompted a Twitterstorm. We saw it again when #ObamaEatsDogs exploded, and when #Julia blew up in the White House’s face like an exploding cigar.” Of course, Hinderaker only sees the successful conservative Twitter memes because they’re the ones that circulate among the conservatives he follows.

This displays a painful ignorance of how Twitter operates. (Perhaps not surprising; if Friedersdorf has a Twitter feed, I can’t find it.) If you go to #Julia and #AskMichelle, to stick with two of my examples, both of which are hashtags that were created and promoted by the White House, you don’t just see tweets by conservatives (or others) whom I happen to follow. Rather, you see all the tweets by anyone. It was by doing this that I observed that conservatives had taken over the White House’s effort to whip up enthusiasm on Twitter.

Friedersdorf moves from the uninformed to the irrelevant:

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has 499,989 Twitter followers, or roughly 15 million fewer than his opponent, and almost 400,000 fewer than his opponent’s wife. Is it really so clear that “the Left is getting clobbered on Twitter”?

As we all know, the fact that someone has once followed Barack Obama or anyone else has nothing to do with how actively that person participates in the controversies of the day. Many of the 15 million who once followed Obama probably haven’t been on Twitter in the last year.

Friedersdorf concludes:

I still think Hinderaker’s post is worth noting because it’s such a perfect example of someone self-consciously curating an ideologically skewed information stream and then reflexively presuming that what they see there obviously reflects reality.

Again, this reflects Friedersdorf’s ignorance of Twitter. If he had simply gone to the hashtags that I referred to in my post, he would have observed that you see all tweets, not just ones that–who could write this with a straight face?–are the result of “someone self-consciously curating an ideologically skewed information stream and then reflexively presuming that what they see there obviously reflects reality.” Pretentiousness combined with ignorance–Friedersdorf perfectly reflects the liberal mind. His failings, however, don’t have anything to do with epistemology.

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